I recently learned a new word: haptic. It refers to any technology involving the sense of touch, so vibration collars are technically “haptics,” and the signals you send when you press the button are “haptic cues.”
An exciting new development in the world of haptic cues is the “haptic vest” for dogs, designed by Israeli scientists at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. In results presented this past summer at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) World Haptics Conference in Tokyo, the researchers reported that cues issued by gentle vibration motors in the vest were as effective as vocal cues.
The dog used for the study was Tai, a middle-aged Labrador- mix. Tai already knew four vocal cues for turn, lie down, come, and back up, so teaching him haptic cues for those behaviors was “not a large leap,” says lead author (and Tai’s owner) Yoav Golan, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering at Ben-Gurion University. The dog learned his first haptic cue – to spin, or turn in a circle – in about an hour. His second cue, to lie down, took longer to learn, partly because scientists had to adjust a motor on Tai’s hip so he could better feel the vibration. A third cue, come, took 15 minutes to learn.
If it pans out commercially, the vest would be able to give much more precise cues than a vibrating collar and could be used to teach a variety of behavior cues to a hearing-impaired dog. While a long way from arriving on the commercial market, the researchers tout future possible uses for the vest, including police and military work, as well as a way for speech-impaired humans to communicate to their dogs and hearing-impaired dogs to understand their humans’ communications.